An Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel Klara and the Sun was released with much fanfare recently, and I have duly procured a copy. Meanwhile, having loved the Booker winner The Remains of the Day, I felt like reading an earlier novel of his and picked up An Artist of the Floating World, which I agree, is another hit from his oeuvre.

An Artist of the Floating World is an unusual, wonderfully accomplished novel of a man looking back on his life and wondering if it was all worth it. It also takes a look at Japan’s widening generation gap and how individuals aiding efforts during World War II are shunned by subsequent generations who are more liberal and value progress, peace and prosperity.

The book opens with our protagonist Masuji Ono telling us about how he came into the possession of his current house at a bargain before the war – a sprawling mansion where he now resides with his younger daughter Noriko. While it’s a beautiful structure, it could not escape the ravages of war and certain sections of the abode have been damaged. The impact of war has insinuated itself in Masuji’s personal life as well, his wife of many years is now dead. He is left with his two daughters, now adults – the elder Setsuko is married with a son called Ichiro. The younger daughter Noriko stays with him in their mansion.

From the outset we are made aware of something unsavoury in Masuji’s past without the details. But there’s a growing sense that this past has made him a social pariah in the aftermath of the war because people are vary of associating themselves with him. It is certainly presented as a possible explanation for why Noriko remains unmarried. Noriko was all set to marry into the Miyake family, but all of a sudden that family pulled out without any explanation, and speculation is rife that it could possibly be attributed to Masuji’s prior misdeeds.

Masuji, meanwhile, is a talented artist who enjoyed his fair share of renown for the art he produced in his heydays, before the war changed things. A profession looked down upon his father, Masuji is determined to pursue art anyway and begins to work in a commercial Japanese firm, which is much more interested in the speed at which paintings are churned out rather than quality. His subsequent decision to train under the legendary Seiji Moriyama, however, takes Masuji’s painting skills to the next level. Moriyama is a teacher specializing in aesthetics depicting Japan’s sensual world of nightlife and courtesans in his paintings. And his fellow students are encouraged to experience the ‘floating world’ – the nocturnal realm of pleasure, entertainment and drink.

Masuji reminisces about his wonderful days in the pleasure district, the convivial atmosphere of those times, an environment which also served as a perfect backdrop to train his own protégés, notably the talented Kuroda.

But then at the height of his career, unwilling to devote his art solely to the celebration of physical beauty, Masuji makes a life changing decision of putting his work in the service of the imperialist movement that leads Japan into the Second World War.

“Sensei, it is my belief that in such troubled times as these, artists must learn to value something more tangible than those pleasurable things that disappear with the morning light.  It is not necessary that artists always occupy a decadent and enclosed world.  My conscience, Sensei, tells me I cannot remain forever an artist of the floating world.”

Masuji is forced to confront the fact that his war efforts do not carry any weight in the present. Some of his contemporaries, in a similar position, have chosen to atone for their sins by claiming their own lives. The younger generation’s attitude towards Masuji is revealed to us through his interactions with his son-in-law Suichi (Setsuko’s husband), a man who thinks that Japan’s participation in the war was sheer waste, and who believes in implementing the American ideals of democracy.

For indeed, a man who aspires to rise above the mediocre, to be something more than ordinary, surely deserves admiration, even if in the end he fails and loses a fortune on account of his ambitions.

This brings us to the nuances of Masuji’s character itself. Set between October 1948 and November 1949, the narrative is in the first person, it is Masuji who is telling us his story. In a meandering style laced with anecdotes, a mature Masuji takes a trip down memory lane that offers him both escape and redemption – his years as a student training for his craft, his formative years as an artist, his growing talent up until the war, to his present family life, and how he is beset by guilt, as he grapples with the consequences of his past actions. Masuji also dwells on his relationship with his disciples, particularly Kuroda – how that dynamic transforms from one of mutual admiration and respect to a point where Kuroda severs all ties with Masuji.

To the reader, the details of Masuji’s disgrace are only provided towards the end, so for the most part we are left wondering as to the exact nature of his downfall. Was Masuji involved in committing graver war crimes? Or were his actions, on closer inspection, not so bad and worth forgiving now? 

For his part, Masuji acknowledges his mistakes and is ready to assume full responsibility for them. In an extraordinary set-piece, which involves a formal meeting of him and Noriko with her prospective match – Taro and his parents – Masuji vocally apologizes for his role pre-war. To the reader, Masuji is a layered and complex creation evoking both sympathy for his present fate as well as some degree of unease and dread for his past dealings.

Ishiguro’s writing as ever is elegant, understated and restrained. There is a quietness and precision to his prose that is strangely alluring and pulls the reader into Masuji’s orbit. In many ways, Masuji is an unreliable narrator, for he alludes to how various conversations in his recollections may not have happened exactly the way he has put them forth, but which he justifies by saying that given the circumstances it could not have been much different.

An Artist of the Floating World, then, is also a depiction of Japan’s political landscape, how it transitioned from Imperialism to democracy and how a man having witnessed both the worlds is forced to alter his perceptions and viewpoints. At the very best, we can’t really change the past, but even if we venture to make amends for our wrongs, it can be construed as a step, however miniscule, towards progress.


The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino – Hiromi Kawakami (tr. Allison Markin Powell)

A couple of months back when I wrote about Yukio Mishima’s The Frolic of the Beasts, I mentioned how there is so much of Japanese literature out there that I have yet to savour.

This time around I decided to settle for a contemporary book and selected Hiromi Kawakami’s The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino.

I had greatly enjoyed Kawakami’s surreal and unsettling novella Record of a Night Too Brief issued in those lovely Pushkin Press Japanese Novellas series. And a fuller length work by her was now beckoning to me.

The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino comprises ten stories, each told by a different woman. As the title suggests, Yukihiko Nishino is the main thread that binds these tales. Essentially, these are short chronicles that chart Nishino’s relationships from a period spanning his student days to when he becomes an older mature man. The liaisons are either legitimate relationships or extramarital affairs.

There is no linear progression in the stories as they back jump back and forth in time.

Indeed, in the first piece called ‘Parfait‘, Nishino makes his presence felt as a ghost. The narrator is a woman called Natsumi. Natsumi has a grown up daughter Minami who is twenty five.  But Natsumi harks back to the past when she had an affair with Nishino when Minami was a seven year old child. Sometimes Minami tagged along when they decided to meet. During such times, Nishino would order a strawberry parfait for Minami.

Natsumi, meanwhile, believes she was in love with Nishino but is not sure whether Nishino reciprocated her feelings. He gave the impression that he did though.

‘Hey, Natsumi, when I die, I’ll come to you,’ he once said.


‘When I die, I want to be by your side.’

‘I bet you say that to all the girls,’ I replied flippantly.

With an unusually serious look, Nishino said, ‘I don’t.’

And he does make an entry in the final pages of this story as an apparition.  

In the subsequent pieces, some of the tales cleverly overlap. For instance, in ‘Goodnight’ – one of my favourite pieces in the book – we are introduced to Manami, and Nishino is now filtered through her lens.

Nishino and Manami know each other through their workplace where she is the head of the department and he is her subordinate. Manami finds herself falling in love with Nishino despite increased resistance and numerous attempts to quell those feelings.

That May, Yukihiko won me quite easily. Like a butterfly collector who spreads the wings of his specimen on a board, and pins them in place. Gently and carefully handling the now-dead body of an insect he has captured. I suppose you could say that Yukihiko had already entrapped me. Without us ever having shared a caress. Without us even having shared a glance.

When the two are going out, Nishino bumps into an old flame Kanoko, and invites her to have dinner with him and Manami. Nishino is clearly oblivious to how awkward this meal can actually be.

Manami, being the sophisticated woman that she is, tries to make the best of this situation.

Yukihiko remained calm throughout the meal. Everything was extremely proper. We drank an appropriate amount of sake. The conversation was innocuous. The evening wore on, gradually. Kanoko seemed to have decided to treat me lightly. Oh, this woman is Yukihiko’s new girlfriend? How boring! She barely even tried to conceal these thoughts. For my part, I behaved like an adult (like a sensible, mature woman three years their senior), drinking my sake with a radiant smile and when the dessert of pear sorbet arrived, dipping my gleaming silver spoon into it with relish.

In the subsequent story called ‘The Heart Races,’ the narrator is now the other woman Kanoko. We now look at the same dinner from her point of view…

Manami was the type of woman who could drink in moderation, but who also enjoyed dessert. I had dinner with the two of them after they became an item. How had I got myself into such a situation? I was not such an idiot as to have brazenly inserted myself into an old boyfriend’s date with his new girlfriend – that had not been my intention – but somehow it was how things ended up.

Manami was polite from start to finish – her cheerfulness was resolute.

While Nishino is clearly the central figure in the novel, this book is as much about the women in his life. Through the lens of their relationship with him, we get a glimpse of their personalities and are privy to their wants, and emotions.

Nishino, meanwhile, comes across as a puzzling creation, inscrutable in fact. When in a relationship, he seems to be deeply in love, and yet due to various shortcomings is unable to hold on to the women he is involved with. And yet he has a charming enough demeanor that makes him attractive and interesting in the first place.

It is really difficult to figure out just what it is he wants from his relationships. In each of the ten perspectives on display here, he seems to be deeply involved, and yet eventually those relationships fizzle out with no commitment.

I loved Kawakami’s writing style in these interconnected tales of love. I was drawn to the beguiling, lucid and other worldly quality of the prose. The simplicity of the writing was marked by Kawakami’s keen insights and observations.

While the overall feel of these vignettes was playful and lighthearted, there were also darker elements that kept surfacing. One in particular revolved around the death of Nishino’s sister. The two siblings were very close, and his sister’s suicide had a profound impact on Nishino. There was an unsettling and hard hitting set piece around the two of them in the second story titled ‘In the Grass’, which is only heightened when we learn of what is to follow later. Overall, I thought The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino was a remarkable piece of work.

This is the first Kawakami book I have read and on the strength of this alone I am now keen to explore Strange Weather in Tokyo and The Nakano Thrift Shop.

The Frolic of the Beasts – Yukio Mishima (tr. by Andrew Clare)

I have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to Japanese literature. I loved A True Novel by Minae Mizumura when I read it a couple of years ago. It made my Best of 2017 list and was also one of my nominations for the 100 Best Books by Women Writers in Translation.

I have a read a couple of books from Hiromi Kawakami and Yoko Ogawa. But sadly, not much of the earlier Japanese writers. Clearly, there are big, gaping holes that I need to fill up.

So when Penguin Modern Classics released a new edition of The Frolic of the Beasts, I decided to start there. I hadn’t read any Mishima and besides, I thought the cover was striking.

Yukio Mishima’s history is quite fascinating and turbulent. He is widely believed to be one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century and he was considered for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times, one of those times losing out to his compatriot Yasunari Kawabata (another author I haven’t yet read).

But it’s his death which caught headlines. Here’s an extract from the author profile…

In 1970, Mishima staged a military coup, which failed as he anticipated it would, whereupon he performed ‘seppuku’, a form of ritual suicide.

Quite an intense man then, and that intensity has rubbed off on this novel too…

Frolic of the beasts 1

The Frolic of the Beasts opens with a prologue which reveals to us the tragic fate of the three main characters, Yuko, her husband Ippei and her lover Koji.

The subsequent chapters in the book then flesh out the events that led up to this tragedy in a narrative where the tension keeps building up.

The opening lines of the book are beautiful…

Koji thought about the sunlight that shone brightly into the connecting corridor that led to the bathhouse, cascading over the windowsill, spreading out like a sheet of white glossy paper. He didn’t know why, but he had humbly, passionately loved the light streaming down through that window. It was divine favor, truly pure-dismembered, like the white body of a slain infant.

Those lines belie the harsh reality which is a prison where Koji has been serving a sentence.

Koji has been imprisoned for a crime of passion for which he believes he has repented. When the time comes for his release, it is Yuko, his lover, who comes to pick him up and not any of his family members, which only adds to the overall strangeness in the opening pages.

But Yuko has her doubts.

As they began to walk, Yuko was seized with anxiety that it had been a mistake to take charge of this forlorn young orphan. Since deciding to care for him, she had not once experienced such a sense of trepidation, which was clearly therefore some sort of presentiment. She had even been censured for her rashness by the prison governor, who said he had never before heard of a case where a member of the victim’s family had become the criminal’s guarantor.

Gradually, we begin to glean the details. Koji, a University student earlier, had been working as an apprentice with Ippei (Yuko’s husband). Ippei is a cultured man, a literary critic whose books have been well received. But he is cruel and a womanizer.

Koji immediately falls in love with the beautiful and enigmatic Yuko (the red lipstick on her pale face is often cited as the striking feature of her beauty), and begins a doomed affair with her. The impossibility of the situation, however, drives Koji to attack Ippei with a wench. And Koji finds himself in prison for this act.

Upon his release, Koji decides to work in the greenhouse which is situated on Ippei and Yuko’s estate in a rural part of the country. Ippei is a changed man though after the attack. He is suffering from aphasia, a condition which has hampered his speech and his ability to understand and communicate leaving him vulnerable, and a shadow of his former self.

Thereafter, begins an uneasy and ill-fated relationship between the three, as Yuko and Koji still find themselves trapped in a situation from which they don’t know how to untangle themselves. It can only end in doom.

The Frolic of the Beasts then is a psychological novel, a tale of seduction and violence, as we try to discern what goes on in the minds of the protagonists and what drives their actions.

While it was easy to understand Koji and the conflicts, thoughts and emotions raging in his mind, Yuko comes across as pretty inscrutable. That was a problem for me because I couldn’t really grasp her motives. But then, maybe Mishima intended it that way.

Ippei is a fascinating creation. Especially, in the way he exerted control (or seemed to) over Koji and Yuko, both when he was in full command of his faculties before the attack, and even as an invalid after that event.

Even before he (Koji) saw Ippei’s completely changed form, he ought to have dropped to his knees in tears and apologized. Instead, something had intervened, clogging the machinery and stopping this course of events. He couldn’t put his finger on what it was; perhaps it was that unsettling smile that hung about Ippei’s mouth like a spiderweb.

In terms of prose, Mishima’s writing is languid and gorgeous. He is very good at evoking a sense of place, of painting an atmosphere where there is tension lurking beneath the surface. The feeling of claustrophobia is palpable throughout.

The trees and the grass had begun to dry out from the morning dew and the previous day’s rain. The rising water vapor and sunlight appeared to completely cover the surface of the mountains and forests in trembling silver leaf. It was extremely quiet, so much so that it seemed as if the mountains and forests were lightly enveloped in some sort of glittering shroud of death.

Mishima also excels in giving psychological depth to his characters. In this passage, he attempts to convey what’s going on with Ippei after the catastrophic transformation in him.

In a sense, it was as if the connection between spirit and action had been severed and the one jewel that had been both the source of his self-confidence and the measure of his public respect had split and become two complementary jewels, which had been placed on opposite banks of that large dark river. And while the jewel on the far bank, namely his literary works, was to the public at large the real treasure, to Ippei, it was nothing more than a pile of rubble. Conversely, while in the eyes of the general public the jewel on the near bank, namely his spirit, had already turned to rubble, it was to Ippei alone the only genuine jewel in his crown.

Indeed, in a way, the essence of the novel can be summed up in a conversation between Koji and Ippei in the final pages…it is Koji’s rant which also gives the novel its name…

We could have discarded our troubles, dug ourselves a hole as big as yours, and, right in front of your very eyes, Yuko and I could have had done with it and slept together like a pair of frolicking beasts without a care in the world…But I couldn’t bring myself to do that. And neither could Yuko. Do you understand?

The Frolic of the Beasts is my first Mishima. It’s a slim novel and therefore the perfect entrée to give a flavour of his writing. He is certainly an interesting enough author for me to want to read more from his oeuvre. I have the Confessions of the Mask, After the Banquet and of course the famous Sea of Fertility Quartet. Would greatly appreciate any suggestions as to which of his I should try next.

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Territory of Light – Yuko Tsushima (tr. Geraldine Harcourt)

August is Women in Translation month – both authors and translators. And so, it only seemed fitting to kick it off with Yuko Tsushima’s Territory of Light, a novel which had generally received strong reviews and which I ended up liking a great deal as well.

Territory of Light
Penguin Classics Edition

When the novel opens, we learn that the protagonist has just separated from her husband and has moved with her daughter into a new apartment in Tokyo.

It’s an apartment that she takes to immediately suffused as it is with light – hence the title of the novel.

But once you got the door open, the apartment was filled with light at any hour of the day. The kitchen and dining area immediately inside had a red floor, which made the aura all the brighter. Entering from the dimness of the stairwell, you practically had to squint.

‘Ooh, it’s warm, it’s pretty!’ My daughter, who was about to turn three, gave a shout the first time she was bathed in the room’s light.

‘Isn’t it cosy? The sun’s great, isn’t it?’

Clearly, these are new beginnings, but not without its fair share of challenges, as the mother will gradually realize.

Her husband has no intention of providing child support citing his inability to do so although he dotes on the daughter. This means that the responsibility of providing for her child falls on her. Her daily routine involves dropping off her daughter in day care, after which she goes to her workplace and then picking her up on the way back.

Slowly, but surely as the novel progresses, it becomes apparent that the woman is struggling in her role as a single mother.

By the time I’d tidied up and finished preparing a breakfast which also served as lunch, it was after one o’clock. If I did the pile of laundry, the shopping and the cleaning, it would be time for dinner. There was some ironing and mending too. The very thought made me so tired I sank down again on to the tatami. Would this Sunday go by, like all the others, without a single thing happening? I felt myself waiting for something, more wearily than eagerly by now.

Her child is demanding and prone to weeping bouts in the night and the mother is at her wits’ end as to how to put an end to it.

Meanwhile, the mother’s loneliness also begins to come to the fore.

There is one poignant incident in the novel where she is trying to arrange a birthday party for her daughter. She is figuring out who to call, and realizes there are not many she can eventually invite.

And she finds herself latching on to relationships with men which are vague with no real future.

The strain of being alone and single-handedly raising her daughter besides initiating divorce proceedings with her husband, begins to get too much, something very subtly highlighted by the author Tsushima.

There are instances where the mother struggles to get up from her bed and is more or less always late in dropping off her daughter at daycare despite repeated warnings.

And in one particular moment of frustration, she leaves her daughter alone and goes off to a bar to relive “those carefree, lively times” only to return home late at night, drunk.

We both walked unsteadily, each belting out a different song. Multicoloured lights swarmed brightly and beautifully all around the station, and the road leading to my building glowed faintly red as it meandered through them, pulsing like a blood vessel.

Territory of Light is also a novel about control – about how the woman is struggling to control herself, and at the same time how society in a way is imposing its opinions on her without really helping her. For instance, many of the woman’s so called well-wishers point out to her the folly of divorce and why she needs to go back to her husband (ironically, it is the husband who wanted out, although that fact becomes blurred later on in the novel).

And then, there is an incident where her neighbours force her to put a blue mesh on her windows in order to put an end to her daughter’s misbehavior.

If all of this makes the novel appear bleak, it is hardly so. Tsushima’s writing is simple, lucid, invigorating, and there is a freshness to her prose that adds poignancy to the mother’s plight.

The novel is made up of twelve chapters, with poetic titles such as ‘The Water’s Edge’, ‘A Dream of Birds’, ‘Sunday in the Trees’, ‘The Magic Words’ to name a few. The gentle nature of these titles, however, bely the harsh reality of the mother’s life depicted in each of these chapters.

In a nutshell, being a single mother is hardly a piece of cake, something that Yuko Tsushima can attest to given her own background as a divorced mother. Hence, her startling ability to convincingly portray it in this novel.

Translation credits from the Japanese go to Geraldine Harcourt.



Reading Bingo 2017

Although 2017 is long gone and we are well into 2018, I couldn’t resist compiling this list. It’s a great way to summarize what had been an excellent reading year. Besides my Top 12 Books for the Year, this includes many more books that I loved but just missed the Best of the Year list.

So here goes…

Reading Bingo 2017

A Book with More Than 500 Pages

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura

At around 800 pages, this is a wonderful novel from Japan about family, class distinction and the rise and fall of Japan’s economy. It has also been billed the Japanese ‘Wuthering Heights’ focusing on the intense relationship between the brooding Taro Azuma and the beautiful Yoko. And yet without the Bronte tag, this rich, layered novel stands well on its own feet.

A Forgotten Classic

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

Barbara Pym wrote some excellent novels during her time but probably fell out of fashion later. But she has seen a revival of late in the book blogging world. ‘Excellent Women’ in particular is an extraordinary novel about ordinary people. Mildred Lathbury is a spinster, leads an uneventful life and is quite happy with her circumstances, until a new couple move in as neighbours and wreak havoc.

A Book That Became a Movie

Vertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

The first book released by the Pushkin vertigo crime imprint, but much earlier it was the inspiration for the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name. This is classic crime fiction with enough suspense, good characterization and plot twists.

A Book Published This Year

Compass by Mathias Enard

An erudite, mesmerizing novel about the cultural influence that the East has had on the West. Over the course of a single night, the protagonist reminisces on his experiences in Damascus, Aleppo, Tehran and his unrequited love for the fiery and intelligent scholar Sarah.

2017 Bingo 1
Editions (Clockwise from Top): Other Press Boxed Set, Folio Society, Pushkin Vertigo, New Directions Hardback

A Book with a Number in the Title

Madame Zero by Sarah Hall

I love Sarah hall’s novels for her raw, spiky writing and she is particularly a master of the short story. This is another brilliant collection of stories about metamorphosis, sexuality and motherhood, the standouts being ‘Evie’ and ‘Mrs Fox’.

A Book Written by Someone under Thirty

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Waugh penned this novel in 1930, when he was 27. A humorous, witty novel and a satire on the ‘Bright Young Things’ – essentially decadent young London society between the two World Wars.

A Book with Non-Human Characters

Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami

This is a strange, surreal but highly original collection of three stories. From the blurb on Amazon – In a dreamlike adventure, one woman travels through an apparently unending night with a porcelain girlfriend, mist-monsters and villainous moneys; a sister mourns her invisible brother whom only she can still see, while the rest of her family welcome his would-be wife into their home; and an accident with a snake leads a shop girl to discover the snake-families everyone else seems to be concealing.

A Funny Book

Bye Bye Blondie by Virginie Despentes

The novel’s protagonist is the highly volatile Gloria, now in her middle age, but having lost none of her capacity for rage and outbursts of anger. And yet it is not a gory novel. Infact, it has many moments of humour and compassion; a novel brimming with spunk.

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Editions (Clockwise from Top): Faber & Faber, Folio Society, Pushkin Japanese Novella Series, Feminist Press

A Book by a Female Author

Edith’s Diary by Patricia Highsmith

There were many this year, but I chose one of my favourite female authors, Patricia Highsmith. Edith’s family is breaking apart and she takes to writing a diary. A heartbreaking novel about a woman’s gradual descent into madness told in very subtle prose.

A Book with a Mystery

Black Money by Ross MacDonald

Ross MacDonald wrote the excellent Lew Archer (private detective) series of novels and this is one of them. A solid mystery with wonderful evocation of California, interesting set of characters, and a tightly woven and compelling plot with enough twists and turns.

A Book with a One-Word Title

Sphinx by Anne Garreta

An ingeniously written love story between a dancer and a disc jockey where the gender of the principle characters is never revealed. An even remarkable feat by the translator for ensuring that the essence of the novel (unimportance of gender) is not lost.

A Book of Short Stories

A Circle in the Fire and Other Stories by Flannery O’ Connor

Remarkable collection of stories by the Queen of Southern American gothic. A dash of menace lurks in the everyday lives of ordinary Americans living in the rural regions of the South. The theme of her macabre stories? The painful, necessary salvation that emerges from catastrophic, life-changing, and sometimes life-ending, events. ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’ and ‘Good Country People’ particularly are classics.

2017 Bingo 3
Editions (Clockwise from Top): Virago Modern Classics, Orion Books, Deep Vellum Publishing, Folio Society)

Free Square

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

This is a passionate love story between an eighteen year old drama student and an actor in his thirties written in innovative prose that brings out the intensity of feelings of the young girl. It was the first book I read in 2017; I loved it and it pretty much set the tone for the rest of a wonderful reading year. The novel had also been shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize in 2016.

A Book Set on a Different Continent

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

The continent is Europe and the novel is Solar Bones – a wonderful, quiet story of a man, his whole life, his work, his marriage, his children set in a small town in Ireland. It is an ode to small town life, a novel suffused with moments of happiness, loss and yearning, and quite simply beautifully penned. This novel was the winner of the Goldsmiths Prize in 2016.

A Non-Fiction Book

Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart

This is a fabulous book on the history of the iconic bookshop in Paris – Shakespeare and Company. It is the story about its founder George Whitman, his passion for books and how some of the most famous authors of his time frequented the shop. Budding authors were allowed to stay in the bookshop (they were called ‘Tumbleweeds’), provided in return – they helped around in the shop and wrote a bit about themselves. The book is a wonderful collection of stories, anecdotes, pictures and also displays many of the written autobiographies of those Tumbleweeds.

The First Book by a Favourite Author

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter

This isn’t exactly his first book but one of his earlier ones. James Salter has a knack of crafting exquisite sentences and conveying a lot in poetic, pared back prose. ‘Light Years’ still remains my favourite one of his, but this title is also good.

2017 Bingo 4
Editions (Clockwise from Top): Faber & Faber, Canongate Books, Shakespeare & Company Paris, Picador

A Book You Heard About Online

Climates by Andre Maurois

Climates is a story of two marriages. The first is between Phillipe Marcenat and the beautiful Odile, and when Odile abandons him, Phillipe marries the devoted Isabelle. It is a superb novel with profound psychological insights, a book I only heard about through one of the reading blogs I regularly frequent.

A Bestselling Book

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Not sure this is a bestselling book, but I can say that it was certainly the most well-known of all that I read last year. I have always balked at the idea of reading a Woolf for fear of her novels being difficult and highbrow. But I decided to take the plunge with the more accessible Mrs Dalloway. And closed the final pages feeling exhilarated. More of Woolf shall be explored – perhaps, To the Lighthouse will be next?

A Book Based on a True Story

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

Penelope Fitzgerald is a wonderful but underrated writer. The Blue Flower is a compelling novel that centres around the unusual romance between the poet Novalis and his young fiancé Sophie. Novalis was the pen name of Georg von Harden berg who was a poet, author and philosopher of Early German Romanticism in the 18th century.

A Book at the Bottom of Your TBR Pile

Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi

This was the first title published by Peirene Press way back in 2011, and on the strength of some solid reviews, had been meaning to read it for a while, only to find it languishing at the back of some shelf. I finally pulled it out and gulped it in a single sitting. It is quite a dark, bleak but poignant tale of a young mother and her two sons and the extreme step she takes to shield them from a cruel world.

2017 Bingo 5
Editions (Clockwise from Top): Other Press, Folio Society, Folio Society again, Peirene Press (‘Female Voice: Inner Realities’ Series Book One)

A Book your Friend Loves

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

First Love had received quite some rave reviews last year and was also shortlisted for a couple of prestigious prizes. It is a story of a woman in an abusive marriage told in sharp, intelligent, lucid prose. Here’s the blurb on Amazon – Catastrophically ill-suited for each other, and forever straddling a line between relative calm and explosive confrontation, Neve and her husband, Edwyn, live together in London. As Neve recalls the decisions that brought her to Edwyn, she describes other loves and other debts–from her bullying father and her self-involved mother, to a musician she struggled to forget. This novel had been shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize in 2017.

 A Book that Scares You

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

This is a tense, chilling and utterly gripping book that combines elements of the supernatural with the more real matters of agricultural disasters. The tone of storytelling is feverish and urgent; it filled me with dread as I raced towards the ending.

A Book that is More Than 10 Years Old

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

A great novel with psychologically complex characters and a narrative style that forces you to keep shifting sympathies with them. And the opening sentence is a corker – This is the saddest story I have ever heard.

The Second Book in a Series

Transit by Rachel Cusk

The first was Outline, which I read at the start of the year. So impressed was I that I read the second in the trilogy – Transit – the same year too. The third one is yet to be published. In both the novels, the protagonist who is a writer meets people while she is away in Greece or in London. They tell her stories about their lives, each one with a different perspective. Paradoxically, the protagonist is in the background as the stories told by her friends, colleagues and new people she meets take centre stage. While the main character’s story is never directly narrated, we learn something about her from the way she interacts with the others. This novel had been shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize in 2016. Incidentally, Outline was shortlisted for the same prize in 2014.

A Book with a Blue Cover

The Doll’s Alphabet by Camilla Grudova

This one was easy simply because the publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions made it so. All their fiction titles have blue covers. The Doll’s Alphabet is a collection of 13 stories. Each story is wondrous, fantastical, weird and an ode to anachronism. Grudova has painted a different world; a macabre world of fables, dreams, nightmares and otherworldliness.

2017 Bingo 6
Editions (Clockwise from Top): Oneworld Publications, Folio Society, Picador E-Book, Granta Hardback, Fitzcarraldo